“We often think of flu as just a nasty illness which puts us in bed for a few days. But some outbreaks can cause death on a large scale ?the world-wide outbreak in 1918 killed more people than the First World War itself. We may now be facing another flu outbreak, this time originating from chickens in Asia.
“If we are successful, we will have taken important steps in finding a new way of fighting influenza and other diseases. It will then be for the pharmaceutical companies to take our blueprint and turn it into a drug.?/p>
Professor Williams said that his work is a more sophisticated development from similar modelling which produced two anti-influenza drugs, Relenza and Tamiflu, whose effectiveness is limited.
He and Dr Ruggiero will study sialidases, enzymes used by the flu virus to snip off a special type of sugar, sialic acid, from the throat cell, allowing the virus to enter the cell and reproduce.
The new drug would be chemically similar to the sialic acid, but would act to inhibit the sialidase. This would hinder the virus from entering the cells, and from leaving them should they gain entry, thereby controlling the spread of the infection.
Because of similarities between the enzymes used by different viruses and bacteria, a similar approach may also be useful in fighting other diseases such as the South American sleeping sickness, Chagas Disease.